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Warnings of Terrorist Attacks Increase in Jakarta

Police investigate outside the home of Indonesian cleric Abu Jibril, Wednesday, where a small bomb exploded on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia
Western governments and the Indonesian authorities have increased warnings over the past month that a terrorist attack in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta may take place very soon.

Indonesian authorities and Western governments say that Islamic militants affiliated with the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah are in the advanced stages of mounting an attack in the country. Among the governments issuing warnings to their citizens are the United States, Britain and Australia.

Of the embassies in Jakarta, 11 have received extra security from the Indonesian security forces. Earlier this month, security warnings prompted the United States to temporarily close all its diplomatic missions in the country.

Jemaah Islamiyah, JI, is believed to be responsible for a series of attacks in the country over the past several years. Among them is the 2002 bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that claimed 202 lives, most of them foreign tourists.

Since then, JI has struck in Indonesia every year. In 2003 the terrorist group sent a suicide bomber to the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta killing 12 people and last September they struck again at the Australian embassy, killing 10 people. The Indonesian government has convicted several JI members in the Bali and Marriott attacks.

Ken Conboy, country director of the security group Risk Management Advisory, says the warnings should be taken seriously.

"I think it's almost a given that there will be an attack,” he said. “They've averaged about every year they've had a major strike against Western interests and it's been eight months or so since the last one, so they've had more than enough time, I'm speaking about JI, to plan, carry out the logistics, to reconnaissance, collect the finances, assemble the device, and single out the suicide bombers."

The warnings all cite a stream of "credible reports" saying embassies, international hotels, international schools, office buildings, and shopping malls are potential targets.

Most five-star hotels have seen occupancy rates fall because of the warnings and they have stepped up security. Armed guards are posted at entrances and vehicles are searched.

Markus Schneider, the resident manager of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Jakarta, says occupancy has dropped but residents of Jakarta, both Indonesians and Westerners, still come to the hotel for meals.

"The restaurants are back to normal and people are going out again, they understand life continues … people are getting used to it. Secondly I think the local law enforcement is doing a much, much better job," he explained.

Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says the Indonesian authorities need to do more to prevent terrorist attacks.

"I think they can do more because JI is still a legal organization and they can proscribe it, they can go after their key ideologues, they can go after their key propagandists, their fundraisers, their procurement specialists. They can dismantle their structures, and destroy their organization," said Mr. Gunaranta.

Many analysts says the capture of fugitive Malaysians Noordin Top and Azahari bin Husin, who are believed to be the masterminds behind many JI bombings, would help prevent new attacks.

At the posh Plaza Indonesia mall, which houses the five-star Hyatt Hotel, guards armed with automatic weapons check every car, and bags are searched before shoppers enter the grounds.

But the threat of attack does not bother an Indonesian businessman who says his name is Dave. He works near the mall and eats lunch there every day.

"I don't really care what people are saying, whether it's safe, unsafe. I'm still going to the mall," he said.

Along Jalan Jaksa, a haven for backpacking tourists, 22-year-old Australian Michael Granthen says he is enjoying his visit, although his parents were worried about his safety.

"No, it hasn't affected my travels,” he added. “The airline actually called everyone and said we'll refund everybody's tickets in full, because of the warnings. But I think that because society is so large, there's so many people in every country that if there's a small threat, then tell everyone about it because you've got to be cautious as a government because you're responsible for so many people."

JI reportedly wants to create an Islamic state across much of Southeast Asia. It has made clear it targets Western interests and Westerners, but in both the Marriott and the Australian embassy attacks, most of the victims were Indonesians.

Ken Conboy, the security expert, says most Westerners living in Indonesia have become security conscious, but for the most part carry on with their lives as usual.

"People have been hardened to this sort of stuff, a lot of the Western clients that I've got… They're not too skittish anymore. It's sort of become a truism now for people operating in Jakarta that you're expecting it," noted Mr. Conboy.

Earlier this week police defused a bomb at a busy Jakarta railway station and Indonesian soldiers said they were searching for five cars believed to be carrying bombs made by JI.

Both events were shrugged off by most Indonesians, who have grown used to such hazards. Indonesian and Western security officials say, however, they cannot afford to be as complacent.